A near-future sci-fi saga begins with three dystopian visions of mundane existence that don’t seem all that far away, where bureaucracy has been taken to the Nth degree, ridiculous and absurd. It’s an excellent opener in a three-volume series, mixing elements of the likes of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Franz Kafka’s tales, from the creator of XIII and Largo Winch, writer Jean Van Hamme.
It’s a three-part series of graphic novels with three separate vignettes in volumes one and two, with different life stories that promise to all come together in the final volume. How that’s going to work, I have no idea, but based on the three vignettes in this first volume, I trust Van Hamme to absolutely nail it in three volumes.
The starting point for Authorised Happiness is simple, it’s merely the title writ large. The idea of the welfare state is taken to its own ridiculous over the top conclusion, where the nanny state becomes more Big Brother than care from cradle to grave. Bureaucratic absurdity takes over, as corporate secrecy, excessive healthcare concerns, and government-controlled holidays are covered here in volume one.
It opens with ‘Career Plan‘, something that comes straight out of Gilliam’s Brazil (never seen it? Take some lockdown time out to rectify that right away). Our everyman here is Francis, just a simple cog in an analytical machine. His new job (in a world where unemployment is spiralling out of control) just consists of comparing figures for GAC (the mysterious General Analysis Company) from one printer against the other. That’s it. Nothing more, just note any discrepancies.
No-one knows what the company actually does, or perhaps just doesn’t want to know. Not the bosses, not co-workers, not his union rep… just a wall of silence. He tries Human Resources… except they’re on the 15th floor and his lift just gets up to the 14th floor and this…
And even the slightest enquiry is met with reprimand from on high.
So just what is the mystery of GAC? Francis Morton has to find out, the frustration of not knowing is just eating away at him, it’s affecting his life, his marriage, and he’s driven to discover what’s going on. That’s not a good idea, not a good idea at all.
Second tale, ‘To Your Health’, is where Van Hamme really goes wonderfully over the top. Making the government’s free healthcare system work effectively by policing it. Literally. Make sure the populus sticks to the new health rules with the threat of the Medical Police getting involved for transgressions, even those as minor as not watching the weather forecast or not protecting your household appliances properly…
It’s a world of mandatory gym sessions, undershirt checks, ration cards for healthy eating, all to protect your health, Big Brother style. The Unified Medical Insurance might give the nation free healthcare but the price is a nation’s freedom. But what happens when you join the ranks of the unaffiliated, living outside the health system?
And finally, ‘Hurray For The Holidays!’, deals with Government-mandated holiday time. Ferried to grim-looking holiday camps, forced to take your trip when the government says – the rich get summer holidays, the poor get winter or spring holidays in the pouring rain. It’s the worst holiday camp in the world, Butlins made worse; campers split into teams, compulsory entertainment, a smile on your face a must or there’s going to be trouble.
So when a little Romeo & Juliet thing develops with a boy from the Green team and a girl from the Blue team, things are just not going to go well.
All three tales, just 15 pages each, work so very well, with just the right mix of ridiculousness and dread at what might be. And through it all the artwork of Griffo (real name Werner Goelen) is rather perfect for the tone of the stories.
It definitely follows a Euro-style clear line look but does so with a delicious rawness in his characters, perfect for the underlying dark mood behind the surface what-if absurdity that initially comes out in the stories.
But when you choose to look closer or read it again, you find yourself picking up more and more details in his characters, perfect expressions, wonderful background details, that really adds so much to the overall experience.
Yes, it was Van Hamme’s name that attracted me to this one, as his XIII and Largo Winch are stunning thrillers, perhaps my favourite Euro books of recent years. But Griffo’s art elevates what might perhaps be a little slight ‘What-If’ style trio of stories and makes me look forward to getting my hands on volume two and particularly volume three with that promise of bringing some or all of these stories together.
Authorised Happiness Book 1 – Script by Jean Van Hamme, art by Griffo, published by Cinebook.